Brooklyn, New York
Problem: How to keep track of thousands of small pieces of sheet metal
Solution: A high-density storage solution
Benefits: Parts are easier to find and faster to retrieve. Workers are more efficient. Shop is better organized.
Products Used: Vertical Lift Module
Architectural Grille is a 40-employee, family-run shop that makes custom grilles for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. Its customers include architects, designers, contractors, and homeowners.
The company uses around 50,000 pounds of sheet metal every month. Over time, it has accumulated thousands of small pieces that have been left over after full sheets have been cut. Because the cutoffs are large enough to be used for new grilles, it doesn’t make sense to discard them, but their non-uniform sizes make them a challenge to keep track of. “Over the years we’ve been stacking them in racks, one on top of the other,” says company vice president Anthony Giumenta Jr. There was no system for tracking this varied stock, so workers that needed a small piece would either take hours looking for it (a waste of valuable time) or would cut one from a full sheet (an inefficient use of valuable materials).
Then Giumenta saw the Vidmar® Vertical Lift Module (VLM) at a tradeshow. “A light went on in my head,” he recalls. The VLM is a high-density vertical storage tower. As many as 240 racks (depending on the size of the stored materials) are stacked inside the tower. Stored items are inventoried using a touch-screen computer running an easy-to-use Windows XP-based software program with a graphical user interface. When a worker needs a part, he can use the software to search for it. A unique elevator system then retrieves the rack where the part is stored and delivers it to a picking bay. Giumenta saw the VLM as the answer to tracking and making better use of the huge amount of small pieces.
Getting the machine up and running was easier than expected. “Setup only took a couple of days,” says Giumenta. “And it took just a couple of more days for my guys to learn how to use the software.”
To load the machine, the operator takes a piece of small scrap, measures and weighs it, and enters it into the computer before placing it in one of the racks. Filling the machine with the backlog of scrap took some time: Architectural Grille’s VLM has 160 racks that hold 551 pounds of scrap metal, for a total of 18,000 pounds of material. But now the shop has developed an efficient system of logging in and storing cutoffs as they become available.
Has it been worth the investment? Giumenta thinks so; in fact he calls it “a no-brainer.” His workers started retrieving pieces from the machine before it was even fully loaded. “When they need a small piece, now it’s the first place they look. They can quickly find just the right piece for the job, and we end up wasting a lot less material,” he says.